Rybczynski is totally engaging in this smoothly flowing, sharp, witty narrative—another winner from a top-notch writer on...

NOW I SIT ME DOWN

FROM KLISMOS TO PLASTIC CHAIR: A NATURAL HISTORY

The acclaimed popularizer and purveyor of all things architectural scrutinizes a “tool for sitting.”

A man of boundless curiosity, Rybczynski (Emeritus, Architecture/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Mysteries of the Mall: And Other Essays, 2015, etc.) turns his roving eye to something found in every home: the common yet paradoxical chair, which “endures, even as it never ceases to change.” But this isn’t a mere design history; it’s also a “chronicle of human behavior.” The author is fascinated with chairs because they “address both physiology and fashion.” They try to balance artistry, status, gravity, construction, and comfort. As he notes, chairs “are inanimate objects, but they speak to us.” Rybczynski is particularly taken by the ancient Greek klismos chair, “considered by many to be the most graceful chair ever made.” It was a beautifully proportioned chair for everyday use, a “sitting tool distilled to its essence….It’s perfect.” Accompanying the description is one of the author’s delicate, hand-drawn illustrations, which appear throughout the book. His succinct discussion of why the ancient Chinese switched from sitting on the floor to chairs is marvelous. The “quintessential” American chair, the rocker, probably appeared in the early 1700s. By the 1820s, it was a “national fad.” The “Henry Ford of chairs” is the “landmark figure” Michael Thonet. Not only did he invent a new technique for making chairs in the 19th century, he also created a way to mass-produce them. The Adirondack chair emerged in 1903, while the fold-up aluminum chair popped up in 1947 at the same time as the “stately” BarcaLounger. In the 1940s and ’50s, the Eames brothers’ shell chairs were the rage. Now, “the most common chair on the planet” is the “furniture equivalent of rubber flip-flops.” It’s the plastic, monobloc chair, which has literally littered our planet.

Rybczynski is totally engaging in this smoothly flowing, sharp, witty narrative—another winner from a top-notch writer on design. 

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-22321-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

more